When it comes to powerful workstations, very few make them as good as HP, and practically no one makes them better. Therefore, if you are looking for a machine that can take on serious production and post challenges, an HP workstation should be high, if not at the top of your list.
If money is no object, you can go out and purchase HP’s top of the line workstation, the Z840. With dual Xeon processors, each available with up to 22 cores, the Z840 is a monstrously powerful machine that will have you sailing through practically every post production challenge with ease. I recently reviewed the flagship Z840 (and made a video about it). You can check it out here.
For those who have slightly more modest requirements, the HP Z640 and Z440 mid-range workstation towers, are also available. These two machines sit right below the Z840 in HP’s workstation family and also pack a serious punch.
However, what if you’re just starting out or you’re on a very restricted budget? Does that mean that you’re excluded from having a powerful workstation of your very own? Are you condemned to the sidelines with no hope of owning a real workstation, at least until you can fatten up that bank account of yours.
The answer is no, you don’t have to be left out in the cold even if you are a starving artist. Now you can have a machine that can deliver the power you crave. Not too long ago, HP introduced their new entry level workstation, the HP Z240, a robust and compact machine that offers workstation performance and features at PC-like prices. Now animation students or those just starting in the post production industry can afford to purchase a true workstation-class machine without blowing their entire savings account.
Along with this written review, I created a video review for your convenience. By watching the video below, you can lean back in your chair and find out all about the HP Z240. However, if you’re sitting on a noisy train or simply prefer to read, you can read the review which continues on beneath the video. Here’s a thought, why not do both?
On the Outside
The HP Z240, in fact, available in a tower or desktop (small-form-factor) model. While the desktop model might be more space efficient (it can sit right under your display), in this review, we’ll focus on the tower design.
My first impression of the machine after removing the protective covering was that the HP Z240 is a stylishly designed black tower that’s that’s 6.7 inches wide, 14.7 inches deep and 15.7 inches high and has a starting weight of around 19 lbs. As we’ll see, it’s also very expandable, yet small and light enough for one person to easily move around their studio and fit into tight or compact areas.
On the front, you’ll find two external 5.25 inch bays. The top bay, on the machine that I reviewed, has a convenient, yet optional handle installed. Beneath the external bays, there’s an HP slim Super Multi DVD drive, power button, 2 USB 2.0 ports (the top of which is a battery charging port), 2 USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks.
The face of the tower has a really smart innovation that I have not seen before on any workstation. There’s a removable dust filter on the front which prevents dust from entering the tower. This keeps the internal components of the machine nice and clean, and we all love a clean machine. When it gets dusty, just press on a front panel to pop it out, wipe it off and push it back to replace it.
The back of the machine features a power connection, legacy PS/2 ports, 2 more USB 2.0 ports, RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet, 2 DisplayPort 1.2 outputs and a DVI-I port that can be used for Intel integrated HD graphics (though you’ll probably want to install a dedicated GPU for that), 4 more USB 3.0 ports, audio in, audio out, microphone jack as well as the display port and DVI outputs from the GPU which we’ll talk about later.
On the Inside
Accessing the interior of the workstation is easily done by removing the side panel from its handle.
Now let’s focus on the CPU. The Z240 I reviewed has a single 4 core, 3.6 GHz Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 processor with an 8MB cache, a capable CPU that can handle many post production challenges. There is a fan mounted right on the processor to keep it cool. There’s also a fan on the back of the machine to keep the air flowing through the system.
For Video, the Z240 contained an NVIDIA Quadro K2200 GPU installed into a PCIe x 16 slot. NVIDIA makes some of the best video cards in the business and the K2200 is no exception. It’s got the ability to allow you to work with large complex models thanks to its 4 GB of GDDR5 memory and it’s 640 CUDA parallel processor cores. It can also power up to 4 4K displays at 60 Hz in 30 bit color. The Quadro K2200 has DisplayPort 1.2 as well as DVI-I dual link connections accessible on the rear of the machine.
The HP Z240 also supports HP’s Z Turbo Drive G2 PCIe based solid state storage cards which offer incredible transfer speeds of over one Gigabyte per second. Z Turbo Drives come in 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB capacities. On this Z240 there are two Z Turbo Drives installed. The first is a 256 GB Z Turbo drive in one of the workstation’s PCIe slots which happens to contain the operating system.
A great new feature of the HP Z240 is the incorporation of an M.2 slot right onto the motherboard which allows you to install expansion and storage cards into your system and, among other things, can access PCI Express lanes without taking up a PCIe slot. The Z240’s second 256 GB Z Turbo drive, is installed there. PCI-e based storage such as those found in the Z Turbo Drive will come in handy in speeding up 4k high resolution workflows or accessing complex 3D data sets. Z Turbo drives can also be put into RAID configurations for even speedier performance.
The HP Z840 includes one 2.5 inch and two 3.5 inch drive bays. In this bay, there’s a 1 TB SSD which can be used as working drive or for storage. Above the internal drive bays are two 5.25 inch external bays where you can install things like a media card reader. There is also an external slim optical disk drive bay where a DVD drive is installed.
For Memory, the HP Z240 supports a maximum of 64 GB of DDR4 unbuffered SDRAM with very speedy transfer rates of 2133 MT/s. The workstation has 4 memory slots on the motherboard. This machine has a 16 GB DIMM in slots 1 and 3 for a total of 32 GB of memory. You’ll also find a 400 watt, 92 per cent efficient power supply.
You’ll also find a little speaker inside the machine. While you might not want to use it when you record your next album, it’s a very handy thing to have built right into the Z240’s chassis.
For this review, the Z240 tower was paired with a Z23n HD monitor, a nice complement to the Z240. Though it’s not 4k, its 1920 X 1080 resolution is suitable for many projects.
For benchmarking, I ran CineBench R15. I started with the GPU test which measures the speed of and rendering capabilities of the NVIDIA Quadro K2200 GPU. The test uses a real time scene which features two cars racing through winding city streets.
The CineBench GPU test result was 119.59 frames per second, an excellent score compared to the other models listed (see image below).
Next came the Cinebench CPU test which measures the performance of the 4 core Xeon processor by 3D rendering a finished frame of a sample scene containing lights, shadows, reflections and global illumination. These days final rendering is also done on GPUs thanks to innovative software from OTOY, it is traditionally a function of the CPU and lots of popular rendering software such as Solid Angle’s Arnold are CPU based.
The CineBench score for the CPU test was 839. In comparison with some other CineBench CPU scores, that’s faster than the 4 core i7s but below a 6 core i7 and lower than a 12 core Xeon. For a four core processor, however, it leads the pack. To see how the Z240 compares with your current configuration, download CineBench and run it on your machine.
To conclude, I think HP’s entry level Z240 is a smartly designed, robust and innovative workstation that offers enough power for a wide range of creative challenges including animation, visual effects, illustrations and digital audio. It’s a great machine for people just starting out that offers true workstation performance and reliability at a price that you might expect to pay for a consumer level PC.
By the way, the Z240 is a good option for those looking to switch over from the Macintosh platform. Apple Macs haven’t kept up on the high end and many Mac Users who work in professional post production environments are looking for a Windows-based workstation for their next machine. The Z240, even though it is HP’s entry-level machine, can be configured similarly to the highest performing Mac Pro.